“Sweet Pea” Weighs In on Home Repair

Through the miracle of technology, today’s post is being published in absentia. I am currently on the road (about 5 hours into a 14 hour trip) with Kids A-E, as we are heading to the beach for a few weeks. Sheepdog has graciously agreed to fill in for me, and while he may not be as quick-witted, he certainly is a lot less dimwitted. I am very grateful for his contribution and I certainly second the message that you can do a lot more than you think. Especially when you learn to delegate. Ta-da!

Also, I believe that doing your own work and home repairs will contribute to the de-pussification of Americans, which really needs to happen soon. Nobody does their own stuff anymore. Did you know that they had to add a fight class to basic training in our military because so many new recruits had never been punched in the nose up until that point in their lives? We need to toughen up, people! So start by fixing your own lawn mower. And there’s nothing wrong with a well-deserved punch in the nose.

P.S. Do not think about breaking into my house while I am on vacation. Sheepdog is home with all of the guns and he is always looking for an excuse to shoot someone. Plus, I think that absolutely everything we own is in this car with us right now. Seriously, these kids sure “need” a ton of stuff.


The people who came up with the whole Idiot Series really tapped into a huge market, didn't they?

HOME REPAIR: DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL by honorary guest writer, Sheepdog

In one of the recent posts, Stacy mentioned that I replaced our ailing dishwasher. Don’t be impressed – anyone can replace a dishwasher. Installing a dishwasher is a small job. There are only three connections: electricity, water and the drain. Stacy could have easily done it given a bit of notice and more time. I challenge and encourage everyone to try to do that next home – or auto – repair project on your own. You will probably learn lots and enjoy it more than you think.

I replaced the dishwasher because I hate waste and inefficiency and paying someone to do something I can do myself seems wasteful. Also, I wanted to make sure it was done right. I have had to redo several jobs I paid people to do incorrectly and/or inefficiently. Whenever I am looking at a project, the first thing I do is make sure I am not biting off more than I can chew. You can go online and quickly learn whether the job is beyond your ability. I analyze whether the task requires a technician or a craftsman. I can replace a dishwasher but finished carpentry requires a craftsman, an artist, and I don’t currently have the skills to do it correctly, or the time right now to learn them. But don’t underestimate yourself. Kid A recently helped me refinish our wooden front door and it turned out really nice – and I am proud every time I look at it. Err on the side of trying to do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Worst case scenario, you hire the person you were going to hire anyway.

I am lucky. I learned to fix things at an early age. I grew up in West Virginia. To say rural would be redundant. Things were pretty spread out. I spent lots of time on bikes, mini-bikes and motorcycles. These were fun but also important to get to the ball field or friends’ houses. We didn’t have lots of money and I was hard on equipment, so I had to learn to fix things or be stuck at home. I was also lucky to have a dad that encouraged me (sometimes forced would be more accurate) to help him work on his trucks and around the house. Some of my best childhood memories are of listening to Mountaineer football games on the radio with my dad while we changed the oil, did a grease job or a break job on one of his work trucks. These experiences gave me confidence to do other projects later.

Even if you didn’t grow up wrenching, it’s never too late to learn. When looking at a new project, I usually start on the internet. But it is tough to beat getting help from someone with experience, so ask your mom or dad or a friend for advice or to help. Head down to the local VFW, buy some guys some beers and then turn the discussion to your project. You will be amazed at how many guys would love to help. Just be prepared to be referred to as “Nancy,” “Sally,” or “Sweet Pea” all day. This is part of the fun and a little humble pie is good for all of us. If none of these are available or the options make you uncomfortable, the next time you hire someone, stay while they do the project. Watch and ask questions. Remember, you are paying them.

Once you have decided you are going to do a project and have some information, I suggest applying the following principles to all projects:

  1. Read the directions carefully – This is a habit I developed in engineering school and it applies to home projects too. I usually read directions at least three times: the first time to get acquainted with the subject matter, the second time I highlight and the third I take notes. I almost always supplement the directions with internet research.
  2. Prepare – Think the project through. I assemble all the tools and material I think I will need before I start. This should include things like buckets and towels if you are working on something with water (I always spill some water). Trust me, take the time to learn where all the shut off valves are located before you break the water line.
  3. Plan to fail – Plan enough time to complete the project without having to rush. Anticipate setbacks. Almost every project will have some kind of unanticipated obstacle. A good rule of thumb is that the project may cost double what you expect and take three times as long. This is true whether you are doing it yourself or paying someone.
  4. Relax, take your time and enjoy the process – If you are rushing you increase the likelihood that you will make mistakes and that you will not enjoy yourself. I used to rush through every project. It is a good way to mess up. I remember the time a friend and I replaced the clutch in my mid-80’s S-10 Chevy Blazer. We put the pressure plate in backwards. We figured this out at 10 p.m. and I needed the truck the next day. The four-hour job became a nine-hour job (we stopped to curse… a lot). We were more meticulous the second time. Take your time and the project will go faster – slow down to speed up.
  5. Retreat and call reinforcements if necessary – Ask for help if you get in over you head. No need to trash the equipment or your house. You can still hold your head high. You gave it a shot and you will definitely learn something when help arrives.
  6. Check your work – I test everything before buttoning it up. When I replaced the dishwasher, I left all of the trim off and ran a cycle to make sure nothing leaked before closing it all up. You will usually see problems right away if you made mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to fail. In my experience, too many people (me included) too often let fear keep them from doing things that would be enriching and enjoyable. WIth a little preparation you will be amazed at what you can do. Plus, experience is the best teacher. The more projects you do, the more you will learn and future projects will be easier and less intimidating. What you learn replacing the dishwasher will help you when the garbage disposal dies. You will enjoy the sense of accomplishment in a job well done. I almost always appreciate home improvements more when I do them myself than when I pay someone. The confidence you gain will carry over to other aspects of your life. These projects will help you to continue to learn and grow. So give it a shot and enjoy!

The Toothless Ladies Loved Me

Not one, but two of the younger kids got up in the middle of one night over our crazy weekend.  They were each complaining of some malady for which I would normally prescribe a simple dose of ibuprofen, so I dragged my still sleeping body to the medicine cabinet and rooted around in the dark for the familiar bottle.  Problem: no ibuprofen.  No big deal, as I can just give them acetaminophen instead.  More rooting.  Bigger Problem: no acetaminophen.

I actually had to turn on the light and check, but I had absolutely no kid pain relievers in my entire house.  No liquid, no pills, no melt in your mouth things.  Nothing.  To their utter dissatisfaction I gave them each a drink of water and said that the problem was probably just dehydration and I sent them back to bed, vowing not to forget to buy every kind of kid pain relief medicine the very next day – just in case.

I did, in fact, forget to buy them the next day, but I remembered that night as we were passing a drug store on the way home from my niece’s birthday party and asked Sheepdog to stop so I could just run in quickly.  I hit the pain management aisle with a vengeance and a hand basket, which I quickly filled with every flavor and style of ibuprofen and acetaminophen that they sold.

Missing a tooth doesn't always mean that you are trashy

At the sole checkout line (which was at least four or five people deep… big rush at the drug store on a Saturday night) people were waiting and bored, so they were checking out the candy display, the magazine headlines and each other’s baskets.  Mine must have caught someone’s eye and a couple of ladies in line behind me started asking me what was up with all of the drugs.  As I looked up to answer I noticed that they were both missing several teeth.  No big deal, but I just wondered how they had each lost their teeth… poor oral hygiene, too much Mountain Dew, bad genetics, bar fights?  Being toothless tends to convey a less than Miss America kind of image to me, but I wasn’t going to be rude or treat them any differently.

Our wait in queue went on, as the clerk was apparently unable to press buttons and put things into bags at the same time, so my conversation with the toothless ladies also continued.  I sneaked a peek at their future purchases and saw that they were buying some kind of ointment, the latest National Enquirer, a couple of tubes of potato chips and a twelve pack of some really cheap beer.  They seemed ramped up for quite a night and based on their shopping haul I had so many great questions on the tip of my tongue, but opted not to ask most of them.  They did tell me that their other friend was coming from a few towns over to hang out for the night, but first she had to settle some things with her boyfriend.

It was finally my turn at the register and the clerk also commented on the quantity of drugs I was purchasing.  Maybe there is a new screening that they have, similar to the one where you have to show your driver’s license when you buy Sudafed because it is used in making crystal meth?  I don’t know.  I explained again that I had completely run out of medicine for my kids and I was restocking.  Then the standard follow-up question to that statement was posed, “Well, ma’am, just HOW MANY KIDS DO YOU HAVE?”

“Five,” I answered, somewhat bored with the common reaction that inevitably was to follow.  I usually hear comments like, “You must have your hands full!” or “That sure is a lot of kids!”  But these folks didn’t say any of that.  I was actually kind of let down by the lack of enthusiastic response to my revelation of having borne an entire basketball team.  I may be tired of the standard responses, but I wanted them to say something.

So, as I grabbed my bags and receipt and walked out the door I looked back at the clerk and the toothless ladies and I added, “…and they all have the same Baby Daddy!”

As I walked through the drug store exit I heard roaring peels of laughter and even a couple of woo hoo’s.  Those toothless ladies sure loved me.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Having a Lot of Kids Will Almost Always Lead to Drinking

This past weekend we were heavy two cosmonauts (temporarily).  Sister C and her husband traveled to Jekyll Island for a wedding and her oldest two kids stayed with us.  My nephew is seven and my niece just turned five.  They are good and get along well with my kids.  So we threw them into the pot and told them to hold on tight for a bumpy ride.  Seven kids over three days was gonna be FUN!

Friday was Day One.  I was getting my hair cut and colored (I have the Catch-22 of giant Jersey Girl hair that grows super fast, yet started turning grey when I was only 25 years old) because my sparkles (what I call the evil grey hair when it shines next to my naturally dark hair) were lighting up like a Christmas tree.  My appointment was early, so I just asked Kid B (Kid A sleeps like the Teenage Undead until noon if you let her) to watch them all until I got back.  Sheepdog had made the mistake of deciding to work from home that morning without checking our schedule first, so he got roped in on the babysitting gig too.  Actually, the Wii ended up babysitting three of them, as the boys played video games until their eyeballs were just about to pop out of their heads.  The girls went upstairs and dragged out the $17,000 worth of American Girl Doll equipment, clothes and furniture that we have in a closet and played until their little fingers were bleeding from working those tiny buttons.  I gave them spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and ice cream cake for dessert, then they were off to bed!  Everybody was happy.

Saturday was Day Two.  We had a 1st Birthday Party to attend for my youngest niece later in the afternoon, but it was sunny and hot in the morning so we decided to get everybody dressed and ready for a day at the pool first.  Nine sandwiches, drinks, snacks, towels, bathing suits and eighteen flip-flops (well 17, as Kid E still has the boot on his left foot), and an assembly line of sunscreen later, we headed off to the neighborhood pool for some cooling off.  I was Mama Duck with my seven little ducklings marching behind me along the side of the road.  As we walked I heard the dreaded rumble of thunder off in the distance.  Crap.  We decided we could eat lunch at the pool while we waited the required 20 minutes before being able to go back in the water after thunder and we pressed on.  No sooner did we get to the pool than another boom of thunder rocked our ears.  Double crap.  The skies still looked blue and the clouds were not menacing, so everybody just ate lunch and we hung out for our second penalty.  As it goes, just seconds prior to the end of the waiting period, yet another thunderbolt crashed somewhere far away.  Despite our insistence that it was just a neighbor bringing in his trash cans, the lifeguard went all hard-core and shut us down again.  Third strike and all, we gathered our things and headed back to the house, never having even dipped a single big toe into the cool pool.

After our complete bust of a pool day the kids all complained that they were hot and sweaty and sticky from sunscreen and they all wanted soapy showers before the party.  Sheepdog was adamantly opposed and suggested we just hose them off in the backyard.  But I conceded to their request, mostly because they went straight into pj’s the night before.  By the end we depleted the hot water supply from our not one, but TWO hot water heaters, but everyone was clean, cool and dressed for the party.

Now the party for my other niece was in Kennesaw, which is forty-five minutes away no matter how you cut it.  The big monster truck that I drive all of the kids around in only fits seven (especially with all of the car seats), so we had to formulate a plan on how to get there.  We had the option to take two cars, but after much discussion we opted to take the truck and just put two people in the waaaay back, using body and boyfriend pillows for back support.  Sheepdog and I both grew up in the 70’s and have ridden seat belt-less on the hump in the back seat or in the empty bed of a pickup truck.  Hell, the “infant car seats” from when we were babies were basically laundry baskets that got put on the front seat next to the driver.  And we’re both fine, so we decided to Old School it.

I am considering this for my next car, as they say they were able to fit 13 people into it.

One dumb ass decision by Sheepdog and me, a driver who fell asleep at his wheel and two busted up cars later, we were getting a fire truck escort over to the right shoulder on GA-400S.  Our girls riding in the back saw that the driver was nodding off and called to Sheepdog to PLEASE GET OUT OF THIS LANE RIGHT NOW, DADDY.  He told them that it was fine, yet turned on his blinker and attempted to move over in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.  As the girls continued to let him know that they were frightened and he (and I) countered for them to calm down and that no one would really drive while asleep, but we were moving over nonethele… KABOOM!  He rear-ended us.  Fortunately we were going under 15 miles per hour and not even one person was hurt (the guy’s car is a different story – he lost his entire front end).  Oh there was some screaming at first from the jolt of the impact, but the kids really were troopers.

You really can’t even imagine how bad the sleeping driver felt when he learned that he just crashed into a car filled with seven little kids on their way to their cousin’s birthday party.  Why not just run over some nuns and orphans while you’re at it?  But, like I said, everyone was just fine and we went on to the party and had a great time celebrating and visiting with even more aunts, uncles and cousins.

So Sunday comes afterwards.  Day Three was a hot and sunny once again, so we decided to just go balls to the wall and attempt the pool one more time.  Suits, check.  Gear, check.  Food, check.  Sunscreen, check.  You know the drill by now.  Mama duck and baby ducks.  And on this day there was no thunder.  As a matter of fact, it was a fantastic day at the pool all around.  The kids had fun, swam like fish, and Sheepdog and I managed to keep an eye on everybody and we even got to spend some time hanging out together.  By the time we gathered out things almost four hours later we had four or five more kids who came back to the house along with us, everybody a little sunburned and everybody a little worn out.  It was a great end to a (mostly) fun weekend.

After Sister C came to gather her chickens and take them back home, and Kid A took off to go to dinner and the movies with her friends, and Kids B and C were invited to sleep over at their friend’s house, I made a simple dinner of burgers and dogs for Sheepdog, Kid D, Kid E and myself.  As I was standing at the grill I said a prayer of thanks that we were all safe, and I made a promise that no one was ever riding without proper seat belt restraints under my watch again.  And then I came back in the house and opened a giant bottle of wine and I proceeded to drink most of it.  Because having a lot of kids will almost always lead to drinking.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Let’s Agree to Disagree

Everything comes down to the He'n and She'n

Sheepdog and I have a great relationship.  He is the yang to my yin.  The out to my in.  The pragmatic to my fly off the handle.  We make a really good team.

We met when we were both twenty-years-old in college.  We got married just one month after graduating.  We were babies.  We both say all the time that we are so fortunate that we still liked each other after we sobered up.  True story.

It helps that we are on the same page about so many of the big things… finances, religion, politics, discipline, priorities, work ethic, what color to paint the house.  Those things really matter when you are dealing with the day-to-day crap that can sometimes drive a couple apart.

But, like every other couple, we don’t always see eye to eye.  Sometimes Sheepdog can be a dummy and he doesn’t see things my way, i.e. The Right Way.  Our disagreements certainly aren’t marriage-ending or earth-shattering, but they are ongoing.  For example, these are a few of our always-on-the-table points of contention:

  1. Tattoos.  Him:  Has two already.  Negotiated for new tattoos every time I suggested we should have another kid.  Another tat would be so freakin’ cool!  Me:  Hell no.  I have a Sharpie.  C’mere and let me give you another “tattoo,” mister.  Oh, and wait until Kids B and/ or C (Kid A wouldn’t even think about it) come home with tramp stamps.  Let’s hear how you feel about tattoos then.
  2. Guns.  Him:  Grew up in West Virginia, where they apparently issue “Baby’s First Shotgun” upon pre-school graduation.  He is a proud, sticker-weilding member of the NRA.  Me: Didn’t touch a gun until Sheepdog taught me to shoot empty beer cans with a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun in college (romantic?) and paper burglar targets with a Glock 19 a few years ago.  I respect the gun, but will always be a little scared of it.  I’d rather not even think about them, frankly.  I always manage to forget the code to our gun safe.
  3. Camping.  Him: Avid outdoorsman who would choose to live in a lean-to if I agreed.  Loves everything about the outdoors, including wiping with leaves.  Me: I only use Cottonnelle Ultra.  I see no point in camping.  Camping is for people who are not smart enough to know where to find a 5-star hotel.
  4. Girls in (Really) High Heels.  Him: The higher, the better.  All women should be required to wear high heels when greeting their man at the door after a long, hard day at work.  And nothing else.  Me: I wear flip-flops year round.

We have always called each other out on our B.S.  If I can count on no one else (well, before we had children who couldn’t wait to tell me that my hair looked crazy or that I am wrong about the facts), then I could always count on Sheepdog to give me the hard truth, or at least his version of it.

Except for when he wants some.  Then he knows he had better see things The Right Way.  And maybe I’ll even put on some heels.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

My Sons and Their Girlfriends

During the last week of kindergarten Kid D came home from school and announced with both disgust and pride that, “Two girls in my class told everyone today that they loved (me)!”  He made a sound like he was gagging, but I swear I also saw the faintest hint of a smile.

The other day when we were bowling Kid E  noticed an older woman (she was, like, at least five-years-old) in the lane next to us playing with her family and announced to me, “She’s cute!  I’m gonna go over and say hi to her!”  and then he actually did.  He is still sporting a mohawk and foot cast – he’s rocking the Bad Boy thing so seriously that I’m soon going to suggest he get a tattoo.

And yesterday within minutes of us arriving at the pool Kid D had two different girls come up to him and ask if he wanted to swim with them.  He spent the rest of the afternoon playing pool games and having diving contests with his little girl friends, making sure to come back to me every once in a while to check in and throw me the occasional “I love you” or hug.  Were they genuine or did I sense a touch of obligation?

One of Kid D's first girlfriends. She was such a little tramp.

Good Lord, I can not fathom that I am losing these boys to girls already.

There is a saying that gives me chills and is the root of the fear in my brain with regard to my sons growing up and leaving me forever and it goes something like, “A daughter is your daughter for the whole of her life, but a son is a son until he takes a wife.”  You just know that some pissed off mother-in-law said that first, and she probably muttered “bitch” after she said “wife.”

Now I completely get the irony of the situation because Sheepdog has a mom and, technically, I guess I took him away from her.  But that doesn’t really count because (A) he wanted to move away from West Virginia more than anything, so he left and I just went with him; (2) my mother-in-law and I are completely different people with very different approaches to parenting (we’re talking for this argument’s sake); and (d) Kid E is completely different from Sheepdog (while Kid D is EXACTLY the same, but that doesn’t help my point at all, so I am choosing to ignore it).

I know that these boys will all grow up and move out and move on to their own lives someday.  And when that “someday” comes around I will even (maybe) be saying that I look forward to it.  I guess I realize that the boys will go away on their own, regardless of whether or not girls play a part in the decision.  But for now I like having my baby boys close by and I like that they rely on me and occasionally come find me for an “I love you” or hug, even if it is obligatory.  I’m taking whatever I can get.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…


Ask almost anybody who lives here and they will tell you.  Atlanta is awesome.  It is great place to be single or to raise a family.  You can live on a farm or have an exciting city life.  You can go shopping for anything, cheer on all kinds of teams at sporting events, and indulge in every kind of music, arts and theatre.  There are great public schools.  There are great private schools.  There are beautiful mountains, lakes and parks for almost every type of recreation.  And even in cities with huge populations, there are neighborhoods that provide a very strong sense of community (Go Crocs!).

It may be sMARTA, but it is scary as hell to ride at night.

But ask those same people and they will also tell you.  There are two main things that suck about Atlanta… traffic and the summer heat.  Traffic is inevitable because, “If you build it, they will come.”  Word is out that this place is great.  So plan accordingly and allow extra time to get places.  If you want less traffic then go live in South Dakota.  Or take MARTA (Sheepdog does).  But the heat?  Good Lord.  Some days I don’t want to leave my air-conditioned house.  And when I do it is only to spend the day at the pool.  It’s a good thing I don’t have a real job.

It is only the beginning of June and it is already stupid hot here in Atlanta.  We have had temperatures in the high nineties, and even into the triple digits, for a week now.  I am used to cross-winds and ocean breezes, so I have had a really hard time adjusting to summer weather in the South.  Even after almost ten years of living in Atlanta, I still pack up the family every summer and we head out of Dodge to somewhere that has air that moves.

The worst was a few years ago when we had the standard Summer Sauna Experience, but in addition we had state-wide water restrictions.  There was no new rain for weeks.  Under penalty of death you couldn’t water your grass or plants, wash your car, or hook up a Slip-N-Slide.  Conveniently, just before news of the drought broke we had just done some landscaping and wished to water the new plants.  I had to take a test online (similar to the S.A.T.s) and apply for a permit and make a deal with the devil in order to give each new shrub three droppers-full of water between 5 and 5:15 a.m. on the third Thursday after each new moon.

So, even though it is crazy hot here in Atlanta already, there is so much to do, both inside and out.  There are no water restrictions, so the swimming pools are full.  The lawns and plants are green and people are firing up their grills and Green Eggs.  Summer is here in Hotlanta, so let’s all take a turn on the Slip-N-Slide.

Have a great day!

“OK Day”

Summer may seem endless, especially to a stay-at-home parent who is suddenly one day in May or June each year invaded by kids being all up in your house space.  The survival of all eighty-odd days without incident can seem impossible, especially early on in the process.  I just hang in there, taking it one day at a time (or more appropriately referred to as one Happy Hour at a time) until about day thirty-five, when I then realize that the summer is a few days shy of being half over and whereinthehelldidthetimegoandhowarewegoingtodo allthethingswewantedtodothissummerwithwhatlittletimewehaveleft?

For part of the summer the kids and I travel, mainly visiting both my parents and Sheepdog’s parents.  For another part of the summer we just lounge at our neighborhood pool.  We usually do not participate in any summer sports or activities, although this summer Kid B was planning to do a short soccer camp at a local high school (I just realized that the camp started yesterday and we have already missed two of the three total days…oops! no soccer camp this summer either).  We all seem to enjoy not having schedules and just doing our own thing and lounging around, watching movies, playing with friends and each other, reading books and magazines, and perfecting our tans and Triple Lindys.

I am really up for most suggestions of things to do from the kids, as long as they don’t inconvenience me too much (e.g. interrupt my intense summer schedule of playing Zuma on my laptop, or of watching HGTV or MTV shows from my extensive DVR queue) or cost an arm and a leg.  So when somebody suggested each kid having a day during which they call the shots, I was certainly up for it (within reasonable limits, of course).  Everybody tossed around some ideas about fun stuff to do on their days, but most of them are playing it pretty close to the vest and not sharing details until they reach the limit of the required 48-hours notice so I can plan meals, supplies, travel and details.

Part of Kid D's plan was for his siblings to create and play a reality TV game show with him. He, of course, got to win.

“Mom, can I have cake for breakfast?


“Mom, can I play Wii all day long and go first every time and pick the teams and pick the games and win every time too?”


“Mom, can we go bowling after we go to the pool?”

(bowling – really?  ugh, but…) “OK.”

“Mom, can I have cake for lunch…and dinner?”

(you are so gonna vomit, but…) “OK.”

“Mom, can we set up an elaborate reality game show in the house, complete with video instructions, painted poster and challenges?”

(speechless) “OK.”

“Mom, can I take a shower with my clothes on?”

(weird, but…) “OK.”

See, that’s all innocent enough.  We are only on our first Special Day (the honor went to Kid D based on recent good behavior), which has now been re-named “OK Day” (obvious explanation above).  I love hearing their ideas and plans and what they choose to do when they have very few limits.  So far I have not had to say no even once.  But Kid B hasn’t gone yet, so give it time.  As the kids get older, their ideas will no doubt become more ridiculous and I will be wishing for the end of summer and start of a new school year, schedules and all.  But for now, we’re all doing OK.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Dance Recitals are Torture

The other six of us all got dressed up this past weekend and we headed out to watch Kid A dance ballet in her studio’s recital.  It was held at a local high school that has its own performing arts center.  I just love watching Kid A dance.  Her movement is so precise and controlled and just peaceful to watch.  But the dance recital just kills me.  I don’t care how beautifully it is done.  Dance recitals are torture.

Let’s start with the preparation of the dancer.  Even the youngest of them (most studios have dance classes for kids as little as three-years-old) get full stage make up.  I understand the reason for needing it (stage lights are very bright and they drown you out), and I guess some people find it cute to play drag queen with their toddler, but it seems so very wrong to have these kids wearing six times more make-up than most strippers wear to work.  Then there’s the shellacked hair bun, which requires seventeen-thousand pins plus a net to hold it in place and a rocket scientist’s mom (because even the rocket scientist needs a mom’s help with this thing) to assemble.  And they don’t make enough chemicals to remove this stuff, so you’d better just get used to it.  Your dancer is going to look this way for most of the summer.

"You will TOTALLY were these again!" said their dance teacher.

Let’s move on to the costumes… they usually come in several parts, none of which I can ever figure out how to put on in the right order.  And they never come with assembly instructions, and I end up trying to put it together like it is a 250-piece play kitchen and I’m panicking at midnight on Christmas Eve.  It’s a good thing that Kid A is paying attention.  Oh, and you’ll need to buy new tights for the show.  The kind that you’ll never use again, and they cost half of a week’s worth of groceries.  The really great thing is that you get to keep the costumes!

Then there is the sales portion of the recital.  There are professional photo sessions (individual and group), DVD sales, poster sales, flower sales, and sometimes even keepsake sales to remind the dancers of the particular experience (As if the actual digital footage of the whole show to the tune of $40 a copy would not remind them enough.  No, they need a stuffed polar bear in a tutu made in Taiwan by a six-year-old who gets paid three cents a day to truly remind them).

Finally, we get to the day (or days! with multiple showings! like Broadway!) of the dance recital.  The performance is usually held in the middle of some unincorporated town, at least six hours away from the studio.  On top of that, your dancer has a call time that is three hours prior to when the doors open to the public.  Until then, no one is allowed to come in out of the sweltering heat and sit down in an auditorium that never has enough seats, and then only the very front row has an unobstructed view.  Most of the time the air conditioning in the theater will crap out about an hour into the first half of the performance.  By Intermission (yes, the show is long enough to justify an intermission), you are so sick of watching all of the variations of “kick ball change” and dancers cross leaping across the stage that you consider encouraging your dancer to try Chess Club instead next year.

Business Idea: Figure out how to get approved for a temporary liquor license inside of a school to provide a mobile cash bar for dance recitals.  Offer theme drinks, such as “Ballet Bombers,”  “Jazz Hands Off My Drink,” and “Beer Straight from the Tap Shoes.”  Provide special honorary seating for dads and grandfathers who got dragged there by the moms trying to relive their own unfulfilled hopes and dreams.

Nevertheless, we all went to watch and support Kid A while she performed in her annual recital.  I sat next to someone who reeked of cigarettes and Sheepdog sat near someone who needed more deodorant.  We all smiled and clapped and cheered, especially when Kid A was on stage – and she danced so beautifully – but mostly we cheered when it was over.  That is just what you do.  You support the ones you love, even when it is complete torture.  Because that is how childhood dreams and memories are made… on the proud shoulders and empty wallets of the parents who love them unconditionally.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Beware the Silence

Drowning can be deceptively silent.  People who are drowning in real life don’t look like they do on television.  There is no splashing, no screaming, no flailing about.  There is usually no noise at all.  Just eerily silent suffering.

I almost can’t bring myself to write this post, as the recall of memories still brings tears to my eyes and a physical pain to my heart.  But I am doing it to remind everyone to be vigilant this summer… at the pool, on the beach and on the lake.

At a community pool, with both Sheepdog and I right there, Kid C once almost drowned.  She had just turned four years old and she did not know how to swim on her own, so she wore one of those swim vests that zipped up the front and snapped under the crotch.  It kept her afloat while she learned the mechanics of swimming and developed strength in both her arms and legs.

She was sitting on a towel off to the side of the pool snacking on some fresh berries, and she had taken the vest off to be more comfortable.  When she was done she went back into the pool, forgetting to put the vest back on first.  She descended the pool steps, quickly – and oh so silently – she was submerged under the water.  A mother nearby noticed that she was perfectly still and miraculously yanked her out of the pool in time to keep her from drowning.  As she vomited strawberries and pool water all over me, I couldn’t believe how quiet everything had seemed.

I can tell you that this all happened in a matter of seconds and that, even in hindsight, both Sheepdog and I felt like we were being watchful.  You will most likely presume that we were distracted socializing with other parents or that maybe our attention was drawn elsewhere by another child.  Neither of those things is true.  I have gone over those seconds in my head more times than seems humanly possible and I still don’t have all of the answers.  I can tell you that I grew up with a pool in my backyard, and spent countless summer days at the beach and on a sailboat.  I know infant, child and adult CPR and have even taken lifeguard training courses.  I certainly thought I was an attentive parent, especially when my kids are around the water, but that day taught me otherwise.

Just this past Memorial Day weekend a three-year-old girl silently drowned in a community pool on the Main Line in Philadelphia, with her parents only a few feet away.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site says that fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years.

The Atlanta forecast over the next few days is currently “hot,” along with several days of “very hot,” so there will certainly be an increase in water activities.  Please be reminded to watch your children carefully at all times.  Remember to always listen for the noise of them playing in the water.  And beware the silence.

Girl Power: Fail

I have always been the kind of girl who wanted to do the stuff, instead of sitting idly by and watching someone else do it for me.  As a toddler I’m sure I petulantly said, “Do byself!” more than I said, “Mama.” (Sorry, Mom).  As a teenager I excelled in both Home Economics and Industrial Arts classes; I even earned the Shop (I.A.) Award at my 8th Grade Graduation ceremony. “That’s my SON!” yelled my dad, his chest swelling with pride.  I know how to sew a button, drive a stick shift, change out a toilet flapper, orienteer myself out of the woods, and cook a medium-rare petite filet on a gas grill that I lit all by myself even if the starter does not work.

Now don’t go thinking that I am some angry feminist who does not need no ma-an around to help me survive.  I just like the security of knowing that I could do these things if ever I need to.  I have no desire to cut my ma-an off at the boy parts to show how strong I am.  That would be a dumb power play and, I think, the mark of an underconfident, weak woman.  I respect and value Sheepdog and his contributions very much.  I think that Sheepdog and I make an excellent team because we respect each other and we have walked a mile in each other’s shoes (well, as much as that is even possible) and we both work together to run this family.

The problem with our current roles is that we have been in them for a while, so my survival skills are now a little stale.  I haven’t been the breadwinner in this family since we were first married and I worked full-time and Sheepdog was in law school.  I would most likely not succeed in an office environment at this point in my life (Um, so you’re saying that I should not take a little siesta after I watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey on my computer.  This company is lame.  Take this job and shove it!), nor would Sheepdog last being a full-time stay-at-home-dad who has to sacrifice regular workouts for sick kids and cross-country travels for SpongeBob SquarePants (truth be told, SpongeBob is awesome and we both watch that show if it happens to be on), but you understand what I’m saying.  Unless you keep practicing all of your skills, you may lose them.

As you know, the past few days have been filled with E.R. visits, pediatric orthopedic surgeons and Wee Walker Boot applications.  It has also been filled with the cold-that-will-not-go-away, a kitchen knife accident (I actually have a lot of these – I think my knives hate me) and a broken dishwasher, thanks to good old Mr. Murphy and his stupid Law.

Fortunately, the home improvement stores were having Memorial Day sales this past weekend, so we got a new dishwasher for a great price.  Delivery was scheduled for Wednesday.  On Tuesday the robot lady called and informed me that our delivery time was to be between 8 and 10 PM.  Odd, but I can’t exactly question a robot and I know we’ll be home then, so I pulse uno para “si.”  Sheepdog says that it is a good plan, because he can disconnect the old dishwasher when he gets home on Wednesday night.  Don’tcha know that the delivery guys call me the next morning, after Sheepdog has left for work (that is decidedly not near our house, by the by), and tell me that the robot lady has a screw loose and she actually meant AM.  So they’ll be by within the hour and could I be ready to accept delivery of the new dishwasher and give them the old one for free pickup?  Ever the “Do byself!” Girl, I again respond in the affirmative, and proceed to get my dishwasher disconnecting groove on.

Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire? Do a good job. Do a good job. Do a good job.

Long story short, even though I have Sheepdog on the speaker phone for tech support and I send him a picture of a new problem every two minutes from my phone, I do not manage to disconnect the dishwasher by the time the delivery guys ring my front doorbell.  I do, however, manage to almost flood the kitchen (which is directly above our fancy media room, mind you), seriously scratch up the wood floor in a spot that I look at every single day and it will quickly drive me mad and require a complete refurbishing of all of the wood floors on the first level, and also turn off both of our hot water heaters which later required Sheepdog to relight the pilot because no one was getting hot water for their evening showers.

Sheepdog then comes home after a full day of work, uninstalls the dishwasher, installs the new one, diagnoses and fixes the above-mentioned hot water issue, and then does about two hours more of work on his computer before bed.  I think I heard him make a couple of Tim Taylor Tool Time self-satisfied grunts throughout the night, but I did not comment at all because they were completely justified.  In my self-pitying rut, I threw in the towel about making a nutritious dinner, ordered pizza and picked up a giant bottle of wine.

Girl Power: Fail.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a crap load of This Old House episodes to catch up on, so that I may continue to be worthy of that Shop Award.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…